Midwife Jo Hunter helps women birth safely in the comfort of their own home. She told author Paula Heelan there is an added sense of excitement when children are present to witness the birth of sibling.
When Jo Hunter's phone rang early one Sunday morning at her Blue Mountains home to let her know an expectant mother she had been caring for had gone into labour, she grabbed her kit, raced out the door and jumped into her car. She had spent the past seven months caring for the mother, who was pregnant with her second child, and had come to know the family very well.
The couple's daughter, Amity, just three years of age, had been involved in all the antenatal appointments at their home. She had loved helping midwife Jo gently palpate her mother's abdomen to check the baby's growth and position. And she'd loved taking a turn of the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope and using the Doppler to find her brother's heartbeat.
Amity and her father greeted Jo at the door. Wide-eyed and clearly thrilled, they led her through to the mother who, having started contractions, had moved from the shower to a mattress on the floor.
Jo knew Amity's parents had spent a lot of time preparing her for what happens during labour and birth. "It was left up to Amity to decide if she wanted to be present," Jo says. "She was adamant she did and said if it happened at night she wanted to be woken up. As I walked in I thought, I wonder how she's feeling and if she still wants to stay to watch the water birth. Her mum and dad had an alternative plan of support if she chose not to be there on the day."
Amity sat down on the mattress next to her mum and began softly massaging her shoulders and rubbing her back. "When the time came to hop into the birthing pool the mum relaxed into the water and continued to labour beautifully. Amity set about filling her mum's glass with water and offering regular sips." The labour was fast and after just four hours of established labour the mother's contractions changed to pushing.
"The baby emerged slowly and beautifully in the water," Jo says. "Amity stood beside me the entire time with a look of wonder on her face as she watched him emerge. When his head was half out she announced excitedly, 'The baby's head is coming out of Mummy's vagina!'" And with that her gorgeous little baby brother was born into his mother's hands. Together with her mum and dad, Amity was exhilarated.
Then, interested in the third stage, Amity donned gloves and inspected the placenta with Jo. Jo has a head torch she wears when checking whether or not stitches are needed.
"While I was doing this, Amity was intrigued. She asked me what I was doing. I said, 'I'm just checking to see if Mummy's vagina is okay after pushing the baby out'. And this explanation satisfied her. Mum didn't need stitches, so I took off the head torch and went into the bathroom to get a pad."
When Jo walked back into the room, Amity had the head torch on and was closely inspecting her mum's vagina. "Her mum smiled and rolled her eyes at me. 'It's all fun and games in this house,' she said. I couldn't help thinking, 'I wonder if Amity might one day become a midwife'."
Jo is a midwife in private practice. Based in the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney), she provides one-to-one midwifery care for women who plan to birth at home. She delivers care in a holistic manner across the antenatal, labour, birth and postnatal periods. "I start giving care to women from the early stage of their pregnancies right through to six weeks post-birth." She provides complete maternity care for about 30 to 40 women a year from a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds.
"The youngest mother I have cared for was 15 years old and the oldest, 48 years old."
Jo's passion is to support women who strive to achieve a normal, natural birth. "This not only includes women considered low-risk or expecting their first baby, but also those who have experienced previous caesarean births, a postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) or physical and emotional trauma." With a caseload of two to four women birthing per month, Jo works full-time with the care provided in the woman's home. In Jo's view, pregnancy and birth are a normal state for healthy women and an integral part of family life. Midwifery is trust based and built on a strong belief in partnerships with childbearing women and their families, as well as respecting birth as a natural process and a normal life event.
* This is an edited version of an extract from Australian Midwives by journalist and author Paula Heelan. The book has been published by Harlequin and is in stores now. RRP $29.99.